King Unadapted Works: Desired Remakes

Introduction



One of the most fallacious complaints in film fandom is the “we don’t need a remake of such and such.” When you look at such statements with merciless logic you realize we don’t technically need any movies. Modern man survived in excess of 1,800 years without them. Another piece of that logic is that a remake or sequel can somehow expunge the immutable. There’s an inherent inclination in humanity to embrace the current and the new, which I believe is why nostalgia exists, in part, because those old enough to remember different times want to embrace part of their experience.

Older films should be seen and studied but the societal emphasis on classicism is as archaic as classics themselves. Those with long cultural memories, longer than their time on Earth even, will always be a niche.

One way in which remakes can be of service is to update the imperfect, flawed, and terrible films of the past. This can be especially useful in adaptations, in which fans of the written work are over-sensitive or when the adaptation is truly painful. Here are the five Stephen King properties that could most benefit from a new take:

Apt Pupil

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When I wrote a post about seeing the movie before reading the book I wrote this of Apt Pupil:

This story as written is outstanding. Yes, the cast remained the same but the story delves into the psychology of the situation in ways the film scarcely attempts. You should read it.

The Nazi/kid stand-off never gets the payoff here that it does in Singer’s take on X-Men. That’s a great motif that this movie hinges on, and it is kind of flat. As is the whole aside from Ian McKellan.

Not to mention that this particular film has with it two associations that make it distracting. The first being Bryan Singer’s first on-set controversy and the second being one in hindsight as its star, Brad Benfro, would die of a heroin overdose about 10 years later.
Gramma

Mercy (2014, Universal)

When I heard that Gramma was going to be adapted into a feature length film, I wrote a whole post about it and performed a rare re-read. The cast was well in place and it had potential, but, as is too often the case when the premise was expanded and externalized things got a bit stupid towards the end, as evidenced by my review.

When taking those factors into consideration, it’s not a wonder I want there to be another go at this story, even though I find it unlikely that it’ll happen.

The Langoliers

The Langoliers (1995)

When I wrote a post about seeing the movie before reading the book I wrote this of The Langoliers:

Augmented by having seen it first in part because I love the mini-series up until the very end. It’s like King says, the story just falls into place so smoothly and that translates on to the page and the mini-series is great until one of the worst third act blunders, and effects shots ever.

It’s a lot to remake a whole mini-series for one shot but it’s literally all the movie is leading up to, and even by standards of when it was made the shot, was crap. Sure, Bronson Pinchot won’t really be replaced but the whole of the cast and the story may be upgraded by a fresh take and a shorter running time.

Christine

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I had the honor of meeting John Carpenter at Monster-Mania when he went and I took this picture with him:


His Q & A panel was humorous, insightful, inspirational, and as appears to be the case with Carpenter when speaking very forthcoming. He confirmed what I suspected in my gut when I saw Christine. He was assigned the script, not quite knowing what it was, was disappointed it was about an evil car, but he took it because it was a job and he needed work. He never really liked the movie. And neither did I, not by a long shot. There wasn’t a hint of subtlety in Keith Gordon’s Arnie and the car as accurate and gorgeous as it was didn’t work on screen as it did in the book. A book wherein I was beside myself as I found it brilliant and captivating even while feeling the premise ludicrous, and it is until you read it. All the talent in the world won’t translate that intangible to the screen if you’re not chomping at the bit to transform that tale and it never saw an adaptation like that.

Desperation

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As mentioned in my Bachman books post, I’d love to see Desperation remade only for the fact that I’d love to see it and The Regulators come out as a tandem in a similar fashion to the books. As for the version of Desperation that exists I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Ron Perlman in the film, and I liked how humorous it was, though it read as more terrifying to me. The only true disservice in the writing of the screenplay is in its treatment of David Carver and his religious inclination.

Stephen King Properties Awaiting Adaptations: Bachman Books

Introduction

It recently occurred to me to consider the Stephen King works which are not yet  films and which may be most suited for adaptation. I will take this task on in separate posts.

The Running Man and Thinner already exist, so the books in this realm where Stephen once wrote under a pseudonym on rainy days would rank as follows in my estimation:

5. Rage

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Last year I acquired the original release of The Stand from 1978, that runs quite a few hundred pages shorter. With that I no longer have any literary white whales. The first one I had was Rage, and it took me a while. I didn’t acquire The Bachman Books when they were still readily available.

After much searching in the days before online shopping was easy, I just happened to see it on the shelf at my friend’s house. I freaked out. I needed to at least borrow it. He voluntarily gave it to me.

It remains the only King book I read in a day. Time and distance from being angered by feeling the need to pull it from print have given King a good perspective on the story independent of the controversy its caused. He discusses it in Guns, and I agree entirely with his take.

While I feel The Long Walk is just detached enough from reality to connect to modern audiences this one hits a little too close to home. It’s truly a wrenching, fascinating, and brilliant work. Sometimes we just can’t have nice things, or in this case nasty things that make you think.

4. Blaze

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This one  that would be a challenge in similar ways to Roadwork (below). However, with all the different interpretations of mental illness and voices in people’s head that exist in movies there are quite a few interesting ways to go about this one.

3. The Regulators

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My impression of The Regulators may have been affected by the fact that I read it long after I did Desperation, which was my introduction to Stephen King and had me hooked as a Constant Reader from there.

I think the best way to make this idea work would be to translate the concept of the book’s companionship to the screen, which would entail a remake of Desperation and have the same cast play very different parts in the dueling films. It would be fascinating to watch, especially if you had the same creative team behind-the-scenes.

2. Roadwork

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While I had to use some analytical chops to grin and bear it as I placed a title that was not my absolute favorite in a subset as number one I will start lobbying for my favorite by saying: a story a solitary man who loses it as he refuses to accept a buyout so his house can be bulldozed to make way for a freeway is not a high concept. It’s an insular one, with a lot of inner monologue and flashes. That’s what I love about it and the challenge of it is intoxicating. In my informal independent study during film school I took upwards of 30 pages of notes on how exactly I would translate this story to the screen.

It was in that note-taking, and practice attempts with a tales by Lovecraft, King, and Lumley that I formed an adaptation style that aided me in writing and directing a Dollar Baby of Suffer the Little Children I was fortunate enough to be given the permission to work on.

So, yes, there is a soft spot that elevates this one, but if you haven’t discovered it yet you should.

1. The Long Walk

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I place The Long Walk first not because it’s my favorite Bachman title, but despite its violence, it’s the one I’m most surprised that has not been adapted. It’s an indie film budget’s dream. The concept is a simple dystopian premise that’s far more likely to be palatable to today’s audiences than it would’ve been in the 1980s.
Postscript

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Kirby McCauley, King’s literary agent, posed as Richard Bachman for author pictures.

When Blaze was released in 2007 it was branded by King as a “trunk novel” meaning it was an old Bachman title he unearthed and edited for release, while still using the pen name. I hope there are more.

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When recently J.K. Rowling’s pen name of Robert Galbraith was outed it was kind of like Déjà Vu. I’ve read of how pissed Stephen was when Bachman was found out, and I empathized with Rowling as well. Though clearly the revelation that Rowling was Galbraith inevitably spiked the sales of the first book in Cormorant Strike series, and all subsequent releases – it’s clear there was a reason she felt the need to write under a pen name and now that freedom from name, fame, and expectation is gone from both of them. I admire her not giving it up and I hope Steve still knows what Richard’s up to.

Review: Glassland

Glassland concerns itself with John (Jack Reynor), a Dublin cab driver like his estranged father, who is struggling to keep his life together and care for his mother (Toni Collette) who is fighting a losing battle with alcoholism. As things come to a head, he has difficult decisions about how to raise money to make.

This is a film that relies heavily on visual storytelling and strong edit that moves the story along. It never says too much until it has to. It sounds counterintuitive but to have a film communicate this visually is rather unusual in this day and age where video equipment nears ubiquity and dialogue is still as cheap as its ever been.

To paint your story in moving images requires sumptuous cinematography with tremendous framing, and in seeking to dramatize reality make lighting and compositional decisions that are as visually compelling as they are unobtrusive. That’s what Piers McGrail brings to this work persistently for 93 minutes.

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A close second to visuals in terms of priority in Grassland are the characters who have to be fully understood and conveyed by the actors playing them, and they succeed in spades. While there can be a debate on the merits of a story-based monologue as a useful tool for actors, there’s no question, however, that Collete’s monologue of the story of her life is one of the most memorable in recent memory; and a standout in a supernova of a performance.

Jack Reynor is more than a worthy adversary and provides a star-making turn of his own, which in my estimation means I will also sit up and take notice when I see him in another film from hereon out. He is convincingly the conscience of the film whom feels the burden of the oldest child to care for his mother when she can’t seem to care for herself. His journey is his own, but being selfless is invariably tied up in the fate of others.

One tricky maneuver this film navigates well is that that it does not genre-shift when criminal activity becomes more involved in the plot. Grassland persistently subsumes the criminal element remaining focused on characters, decisions, and visuals rather than explosive set-pieces.

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Also taking part in this ensemble is Will Poulter, one of the finest young actors the world over who never fails to deliver. In this film he adds another weapon to his arsenal blending in seamlessly with the local actors with his own Irish brogue, which also acts and a warning to those who may need subtitling assistance.

Glassland presents all its characters at a crossroads. It doesn’t offer easy solutions or even closure per se, just a close to a chapter but there is a glimmer of hope in some of the third act developments, and at times, in life as in drama, that’s all that remains.

Review: Boy 7 (2015; Netherlands)

Boy 7 starts with title that introduces the world wherein the tale takes place, and it undoubtedly reduces the running time of this film somewhat. It’s a film that starts in medias res as the protagonist regains consciousness in a crowd and cannot remember a thing about himself, then before he has time to think on it at all he realizes he’s being pursued by authorities, and has no choice but to frantically run out of sheer instinct.

The film is set in a dystopian future in the Netherlands wherein the government takes absolute control of people’s lives owing to the great need they feel for safety they willingly sacrifice their freedoms.

Based on a novel by Mirjam Mous it features a number of familiar YA tropes, which can be good or bad depending upon your outlook on the genre. The book’s popularity is such that its spawned two adaptations produced in Europe and released last year.

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One of the better aspects of a film dealing with a society that devalues individualism and strips these criminals of name entirely replacing them with a number as they are retrained, is that there is a small population in this world. The focus remains on Sam (Matthijs van de Sande Bakhuyzen) who seeks to piece together his past through a journal he wrote; Lara (Ella-June Henrard) whose memory he tries to jog with certain passages and Louis (Yannick Jozefzoon) who helps Sam in his plotting.

The score by Jorrit Kliejnen and Alexander Reumers is effective at underscoring the action and bringing the appropriate amount of tension to the proceedings. The edit is tight and brisk in technical terms but in story terms it seems to be a bit too abrupt and taut for its own good at the end and deadens the climax a bit.

The invariable links and comments that this futuristic tale makes between totalitarianism and corruption are valid, however, the balance between the macrocosmic and microcosmic insight is perilous at best. Much like the society it seeks to critique it lessens the individuals making theme mere pawns, archetypes that are supposed to engender interest and devotion by default because our plight would be theirs.

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There are the bones for what is more than just a middling entrant into the YA pantheon here. Sadly, much like many of the films in this genre things get a bit too boiled down to reach maximum efficacy.

6/10

Review: Der Bunker

Der Bunker is a film that almost needs to be seen to be conveyed but here goes nothing; I will begin by quoting the great John Waters in saying “Get more out of life. See a fucked up movie.” This one definitely fits the bill, and not just because the Blu-ray features a pull quote that alludes to Waters.

Der Bunker tells the story of a German family who live in a bunker. It begins with a Student, who goes solely by that moniker (Pit Bukowski), who is seeking a rental that affords him solitude to do his scientific research, which is just barely more tangible than things volunteered by Bergman in Scenes from a Marriage or Tarkovsky in Stalker. Quite quickly Mother (Oona von Maydell) and Father (David Scheller) rope him in to taking over the homeschooling duties for their man-child Klaus (David Fripan) whom they have designs on making the future President of the United States. His haircut, comportment, and lack of geographical knowledge vaguely allude to slightly more ludicrous real life candidate.

The labeling of the characters rather than worrying about them having actual names is certainly a fairy tale trope that fits in to the absurdist tone that the film seeks to establish. Further plot details will be spared lest all the fucked-upness is spoiled for you, however, I can advise those who would venture to see this comedy that they should definitely expect the unexpected and soon enough you’ll find yourself understanding the odd rhythm of this world.

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It’s one of the first films in a while that have really brought to mind the eternal conundrum which is: “What exactly is good taste and bad taste?” The film goes to there so to speak and is not overly concerned with explication but more so with revelation in stages of a curious world.

The comedy of the film works in simple examples. There are some book titles read where we see what the parents have tried to teach Klaus in the past. The Student observing a lesson noted that he can’t even memorize capitals so more profound things like “What is being?” will have to wait.

Nothing this off-the-wall has no chance of working if the cast is in anyway off, and most crucial in that function is the casting of Klaus. It is quite simply unimaginable that any one but David Fripan could have made this film in anyway believable. In many ways it’s a stroke of casting fortune akin to David Bennent in The Tin Drum. This does not detract from how well the other cast members perform but he clearly is the most pivotal.

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Der Bunker is a comedy that’s great for a laugh but it is of the far-too-rare variety in this day and age that makes you think as well.

Mini-Review: The Young Messiah

Extracanonical tales might get the hackles of some more by-the-book faith-based film enthusiasts up, but as Stephen King has said of adaptations “free to take the original down from your bookshelf anytime you want. Nothing between the covers has changed a bit.” This is even more crucial when you also consider the fact that this film is based on a novel by Anne Rice, during her return to the Catholic Church, it should keep this duality of film and text further in focus.

As such, The Young Messiah succeeds tremendously on its own merits. It features a bombastic symphonic score by John Debney reminiscent of the earlier days of film. It also employs the convention of British accents representing people speaking in a foreign language, which is one of the oldest to film — and one that must continue to be accepted on occasion even in light of more intriguing alternatives that have been demonstrated.

What brings it home the most, however, is that it creates its drama through relatable challenges namely of how to speak to your child on difficult topics, the obvious difference being that there is a far more difficult topic Mary (Sara Lazzaro) and Joseph (Vincent Walsh) feel that they need to discuss with their young child in this film.

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While the Young Lord’s (Adam Greaves-Neal) true nature has not been discussed with Him, what is also a source of conflict is that he is seeing visions, many of them of a Demon (Rory Keenan), that create conflict and foreshadow the revelation of His nature. In Gospel terms these visions would foreshadow the temptation of Christ, and some other allusions are there to make for those who know the tales.

However, for those who may not know Gospels or the life of Jesus the crafting of a familiarly classical plot, without relying on the same old tropes, make it an experience young viewers could easily enjoy and get involved in. Furthermore, a tale of the story of Christ and his family as refugees cannot possibly be more topical at this date in time. This is highly recommended title and is available on both physical media and digitally.

Note: This review was first published in Glad Tidings! Volume IX, Issue 8, September 2016, St. David’s Episcopal Church, Wilmington, DE. Reprinted with Permission.

Harry Potter and How It Changed My Life

In 2011 Rohan Gotobed was a small part of the cast of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. He played Young Sirius Black in a flashback. As such, he was listed among the nominees and winners of my annual BAM Awards.

Being a young person in this day and age in a film as massive as the Harry Potter series he developed a following, and was known to people for a brief film appearance. It’s the kind of notoriety that could turn bittersweet, or stop being sweet altogether. But with the below post on his experience being part of the Wizarding World, Rohan reveals a great wisdom, and  perspective on things. Whatever the future holds  it’s great to see he sees his brief involvement in the series as a blessing, as a bonus he provides and update on his now resurgent acting career.

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In a weird way, I often think about how much my time during high school mirrored Harry’s time at Hogwarts. When I turned up aged 12 in 2010, I immediately became known as “the Harry Potter kid”, mainly because I had already introduced myself as being in the next Harry Potter film. Had Snape been my chemistry teacher, I’m sure he’d have prefaced our first lesson with “Rohan Gotobed, our new… celebrity.” Like Harry, I was an object of weird fascination.Then, once the film came out and everyone realised I was only in it for six seconds (my friends counted), I felt a lot like Harry probably does about 99% of the time. However, there were always younger Colin Creevey-esque students who were fascinated with me, and I probably split opinion between teachers as to whether I was lovely or arrogant. Then, came sixth form, I began to book more…

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Review: The Mirror (2014)

The Mirror ought not be confused with, Tarkovsky’s The Mirror; or in the horror genre: Oculus, which is great, nor with Mirrors, which is not. While the title and motif does not smack of originality there is a bit of worth to find in this British fright film.

The first thing that perspective viewers should be mindful of is that it is a found footage film. Found footage as an approach is one that offers opportunity but usually is used as a shortcut to lazy filmmaking – laziness squared. The rare instances of brilliance and the attractive aspect of low budgets keep this approach popular but frequently uninspired. This film is not one of those.

The Mirror concerns itself with three London university students who are entering a contest where entrants are asked to submit videos of the supernatural. The best one receiving a cash prize. Thus, the setup for the approach but this film finds some interesting things to do with it.

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Being in the found footage realm brings with it some cursory tropes in the opening act that must be borne. It is worth sticking out the slow burn, the mostly unsuccessful comedy and improvised dialogue, and machinations of setting up all the film equipment.

Thankfully, this is not a film that is reliant on slight visions in the corners of frames but rather the performances of its cast. Jemma Dallender, Joshua Dickinson, and Nate Fallows are all excellent. Particularly Dickinson who is the first to be affected, and thus takes the mantle of the lead. The drama of this story, the boyfriend-girlfriend-best friend triad is at the heart of this tale, it is what the story’s motivations and reactions hinge on, and having believable and likable characters in the positions antagonist, protagonist, doubter, and joker is a rare treat for those familiar with the genre.

One of the usual holes that comes with the found footage territory is filled in after the fact. It’s not entirely convincing, but ultimately things stay quite plausible. The third act concludes with quite a bit of oomph.

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Most refreshingly of all this film succeeds by removing some footage leaving some implied supernatural elements but nothing explicit, all implicit. Another thing this film doesn’t fall prey to is that it goes for it. Too many times after so slow a build the audience is left with the feeling that “That just wasn’t enough.” This does not leave you shortchanged at all.

The Mirror doesn’t reinvent the wheel but explores familiar terrain with a slightly canted vantage point that makes it engaging and chilling in appropriate doses. It’s not as shocking a move as it once was, but it does succeed in part because of the lack of scoring on the film.

7/10

Review: Observance

Observance is an intriguing enough concept that is technically astute but big on making promises and also failing to deliver on them.

It is a tale of a private investigator, Parker (Lindsay Farris) who is mourning the death of his son, William (Gabriel Dunn), but also saddled with massive debt from hospital bills. Due to that fact he goes back to work seeking some easy quick cash, and gets a lot more than he bargained for.

A film so focused on visuals, with such wonderful compositions, so willing to play into the implicit pleasure of voyeurism; is always welcome. The flashes are well-conceived and -constructed. The framing, and camera moves are precise, some of the vistas offered as a break of the claustrophobic environs are breathtakingly beautiful. However, when the film finally does speak and offer morsels, it ends up being sorely lacking.

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The audio mixing/editing, in a rare treat, is creatively involved in the storytelling. As his subject, Tenneal (Stephanie King), scarcely leaves her apartment he can set up video surveillance equipment but not audio. This allows us to look with him and not hear for a while. His opportunity to set up bugs offers some wonderful suspense as he has to get in an out unseen. After the equipment is in the mix remains creative as the audio is imperfect and he has to try to sweeten & filter it to hear them better.

All this makes the Observance engaging to an extent but a film cannot thrive on technique alone, the story has to do most of the heavy lifting and that’s where the issues come in.

Plot elements and details, as well as horror touches, are sparse. This is not to say that to succeed in the horror genre an excess of details are required. However, more than a few salient points about the protagonist’s trauma, and even fewer about the purported mystery he’s witnessing come forth. The tip of the hat to Rear Window is most certainly not coincidental. However, what most voyeuristic cinema deliver is what this film fails to do: increase clarity and suspense. While some scares are delivered and some details are revealed the curtain is never drawn back enough such that the opacity,  it fails to reach out from the narrative miasma it creates and draw you in.

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This is the kind of film that is designed to get vastly disparate reactions it would seem. While the effort is greatly appreciated the lack of specificity it offers is too much of an obstacle to overcome.

5/10